27.5.12

Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen on very self-indulgent form. But isn't he always, right? Well this time round my patience ran out. I'm reminded of something Terry Pratchett wrote about his Discworld satirical fantasy series – that in the first round of books he was just writing to the next joke, and then he discovered the joys of plot and character and theme. Coming out of this, I'm thinking that for Allen, the same progression has been a disaster. As his films have acquired greater structure and cohesiveness, the neurotics at the centre of them have become more flat, humourless and aggravating. I wanted to strangle Owen Wilson sooo many times whilst watching this (so childish, such an airhead!) Even more than his fiancée and future parents-in-law, who are just caricatured dumb American monsters.

Unlike the film, I wanted to stay in the past as much as possible. You don't need any knowledge of the period to get the jokes, not really (trust me on this). I thought the send-up of Hemingway was great, mainly because I detest Hemingway and Allen captures his moronic style and attitude wonderfully. As for the rest, Dali is weird. Buñuel gormless, Picasso intense. I suspect that Allen shirked spending too much time with them because the jokes wouldn't last and he knew he wouldn't be able to capture their real selves. The film is about escaping the glamours (as in bewitchments) of 'golden ages', but an intelligent exploration of what history or art can offer is avoided. That would have been a more interesting film. Honestly, I'm not sure if Allen is capable of making them anymore.

24.5.12

Social vs natural science

At the end of a long day, I was browsing the internet and came across this, which I thought was interesting and shared on facebook. Generated a bit of discussion with a friend of mine doing an extremely complicated physics PhD, who argued that the study of economics was compromised by ideological bias and dismissed the idea that it was scientific. Obviously foolish to argue about what science is with a scientist, but I gave it my best shot, which might just be interesting enough to put here as well (also to make up for the radio silence...)

I would hope that most economists subscribe to the idea that their analysis has to make reference to evidence and that it should interpret the evidence in a plausible way. Bias inevitably creeps in terms of the evidence you select and the analysis you choose to apply -- but you can still evaluate whether those two things are done properly, coherently. More generally, since human behaviour in aggregate is more variable: we can do more things more quickly than, say, trees (and we have more interest in and data about ourselves), isolating stable cause and effect relationships is inevitably more difficult. But that's why it's a social science, not a natural one. I would hope the methodologies or at least the mindset in which questions are approached make them similar enough to justify using the word 'science' for both.

21.5.12

Dark Shadows

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp on very self-indulgent form. I was forewarned about how terrible this might be, so was rather surprised to find myself enjoying it. I mean, the film is a mess – so many characters that a bunch (Victoria, David) fall out of the film for long periods of time. It's also confusing tonally: being twee and childish but also quite raunchy.

Burton can do better, and so is held to a high standard. That in mind, I can understand why many would lack patience with a project that gives free reign to the kind of gothy silliness he is so very fond of, and has done countless times before. For some reason, I'm not one of them. This kind of goofy pop culture mash-up, with its arch juxtapositions and flamboyant characters, holds some kind of appeal for me. This isn't a good film, sure, but it was good enough when I saw it.

20.5.12

The Last House on the Left

I'm gonna transcribe a little bit of a David Hess interview on my DVD where he talks about the infamous rape scene in the movie:

"In this scene... um... she was like a lox. There was no reaction from her. For hours we tried to film this scene. So the reaction that you see on the screen is that I scared her. I ripped her pants off during the filming... and she probably thought that I was gonna penetrate her. I had no intention of doing that, absolutely not. But that's the reaction you see on the screen, and that's why people react to it so much in terms of the violation of a woman. But at the same time, it's a film. It's a film. I'm an actor, and I'm wanting to get something from her which wasn't coming. I mean, you either do it or you cut the scene."

The actress who plays the victim is called Sandra Peabody, and she doesn't appear in any of the extras on the DVD. In the documentary about the film, the cast say that Hess was a method actor, that he behaved in an arrogant and distant manner, and that Peabody was frightened of him and the other actors. Marc Sheffler, who played Junior, retells a story in which he threatens to throw her off a bridge if she didn't hit her scene. Wes Craven chuckles that as a first time director with no credentials running a skeleton crew in a forest, Peabody might well have been scared about how far they would go.

Sounds to me like she was put through some horrifying experiences in the process of making this film, and I'm amazed that the people involved can laugh about that, and that they are not called out on it. I mean, I don't want to sound like a lawyer, but isn't this kind of harassment criminal? It's strange that the controversy surrounding this film revolves around the effect it MIGHT have on its audience, rather than the effect it DID have on some of its actors...

The film itself is more a piece of history rather than a piece of art. It is made by amateurs, and it shows. Wes Craven talks about wanting to put Vietnam footage in the heart of America, as well as processing a certain amount of anger at his upbringing, which led him to shoot horrifying sexual violence in cinéma vérité style. My feeling is that the audience is both implicated and distanced from events, and that the film does not escape glamourising its murderers, or sexualising its victims. Its position is confused, and its messages miss their mark. I would have liked Craven to have found another way into the movie business, and I suspect that, quite often, he would have liked the same.

18.5.12

Origin: Spirits of the Past

Like Akira, this film opens with the end of the world, although there is only one brief image of a mushroom cloud in between the snarling tree dragon attack from the moon (what a great idea!) Living in Japan at the moment, with suspicions of nuclear power at an all-time high, it's very easy to read the same fears into this film, even tho it was made 6 years ago. There's almost something masochistic in the way the forest bites back. We must do penance. We must be humbled. It's a weird attitude to find in a science fiction film, tho maybe not a post-apocalyptic one.

Agito is the protagonist. A bit of a Mary Sue, and so rather annoying. Toola is more interesting, seeing as she actually has a dilemma to work through, although this is mostly resolved by Agito's general awesomeness. Which is rather annoying. I did like the circularity of Toola's birth and Agito's rebirth, one rising out of a glowing refrigerator, the other dropping from a seed, though could have done without Toola's wailing in the latter scene. Yes I know Agito is awesome, but come on girl, get a grip!

Putting my gender-sensitive glasses on, the film gets even more dispiriting, particularly the UGH DUMB GIRLS character Minka. Toola is little better though, coming across as a dozy weakling easily swayed by impressive-looking super-powered boys. Miyazaki this ain't, tho he is not entirely guilt-free in this department either.

The film is beautiful – in its own way, the animation impresses as much as the latest 3D from Pixar. Worth it for the particular – quite unsettling – revulsion to scientific hubris it expresses (the forest must punish us!) Real shame about the characters, however.

12.5.12

Red Road

Watching this, I thought the CCTV stuff – refreshingly – was just a plot device. No position taken, no politics involved. Sweep that aside. But then that last little shot of Jackie walking down a busy street, captured on camera, adds a circularity to the film. I noticed that it was about Jackie stepping out of her bug-eyed observation pod. From behind the camera to in front. Through the screen and into life.

This is a film about justice, and mercy, and grappling with your prejudices. It is political, and (at as stretch) about the big brother state, in that it tries to understand the mentality behind law-enforcement. The camera puts you at a distance, in the seat of omniscience, like Zeus deciding where to throw his thunderbolts. Observable actions determine your subjects' fate. Background, context, understanding, secondary. In the interview on the DVD, Andrea Arnold talked about her interest in... poverty, essentially. And the way the privileged project onto things they see but don't really understand. She tries to get beyond that, arrive at the truth. I think her film ends up as a metaphor for that endeavour.

2.5.12

Favourite songs of 2012 so far

Since I bothered to put this up on ilm, might as well add it here. Slightly amended, no order:

E-40 feat. Juicy J & 2 Chainz - They Point
Kendrick Lamar feat. Gunplay - Cartoons & Cereal
Wiley, Flow Dan, Riko & Manga - F'Off
The 2 Bears - Work (Toddla T Remix feat. Trim, Scrufizzer & Trigganom)
Funkystepz x Rihanna - Birthday Cake (Miami Bass Edit)
Azealia Banks - NeedSumLuv
Nicki Minaj - Stupid Hoe
Nicki Minaj feat. Beenie Man - Gun Shot
Cassie - King of Hearts
Footsie feat. Brakeman - On That One
Swindle feat. Footsie & Nadia Suliman - Ignition
Swindle - Pineapple
Preditah - Overdose
Trim - Notice Now (Elsewhere Remix Dub)
Purity Ring - Obedear
Sylver Tongue - Hook You Up
Korallreven feat. Julianna Barwick - Sa Sa Samoa (Elite Gymnastics Remix)
Airhead - Wait
Objekt - Cactus
Pearson Sound - Untitled
Rockwell - Tripwire
Jubei feat. Flow Dan - Say Nothin'